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Florida man charged with threatening to kill three Democratic lawmakers

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By Dartunorro Clark  with NBC News Politics
Cory Booker, Rashida Tlaib, and Eric Swalwell.
Cory Booker, Rashida Tlaib, and Eric Swalwell.   -   Copyright  Getty Images, AP

A Florida man was charged Friday with threatening to kill three Democratic members of Congress, federal prosecutors said.

John Kless, 49, called the Washington offices of Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan on Tuesday and left a series of menacing voicemails, prosecutors said.

Each of the voicemails was filled with multiple obscenities and racial epithets, according to court documents.

Kless first called Swalwell's congressional office at 7 a.m. and railed against the congressman's position on gun control, which he has made the centerpiece of his 2020 campaign, according to law enforcement officials.

"The day you come after our guns, motherf-----, is the day you'll be dead," Kless said, according to court documents. "So if you want death, keep that shit up, motherf-----."

Nine minutes later, Kless called the offices of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and left a profanity-laced voicemail filled with various slurs regarding her Muslim faith, prosecutors said.

"Cuz' the day when the bell tolls, w----, and this country comes to a war, there will be no more threats. Your life will be on the f------ line," Kless said, according to prosecutors.

The next call went to Booker's office at 7:30 a.m., when Kless repeatedly called the senator the N-word and a "monkey."

"We need to kill all you motherf------, man, every f------ one of you, man," Kless told Booker, who is also a 2020 candidate.

In each call, Kless, a resident of Tamarac, Florida, referenced Rep. Illan Omar, D-Minn., but not by name. He used various Islamaphobic slurs, referring to the lawmaker in one instance as a "Taliban b----" and a "towel head" in another.

Omar, who is Muslim, has been the subject of multiple death threats, many of which have been aimed at her faith. She has come under fire for her comments regarding the American relationship with Israel, which drew bipartisan condemnation.

She also drew criticism from Republicans and President Donald Trump over her comments on 9/11, in which Omar spoke about how Muslim Americans' were mistreated and their constitutional rights and freedoms were infringed on after the attacks. Within her remarks, Omar made a statement that her critics said were flippant about the attacks.

"Tell your Taliban friend to shut the f--- up about 9/11, this ain't Trump's's all your people's fault," Kless told Tlaib, according to court documents. "You know what, she's lucky she's just getting death are you. Alright? You're lucky they're just threats."

Both Tlaib and Omar are the first Muslim-American women to serve in the House of Representatives.

Kless was charged with interstate transmissions of threats, a federal crimethat carries a maximum of five years in prison. He made an appearance Friday in federal court, where the case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida.

A lawyer for Kless could not be reached for comment.

In a tweet on Friday, Swalwell thanked Capitol Police and local law enforcement.

"Thank you to the @CapitolPolice and Florida law enforcement for protecting my staff and constituents," he tweeted.

A spokesman for Booker declined to comment. A representative for Tlaib did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors said that investigators used open source searches of the number Kless called from and found that its carrier was T-Mobile and associated with Kless.

Investigators then contacted the phone carrier the same day the calls were made to locate Kless because Tlaib had an appearance in Florida the following week and took the threats seriously, according to court documents. T-Mobile handed over Kless' address, call and location records and provided investigators with "continuous location updates," or cell tower pings, to track the phone that made the calls.

Law enforcement officials had also discovered that Kless made threatening calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in February concerning Congress "taking away his guns, abortion, illegal immigration, and Muslims in Congress," according to the criminal complaint. It does not appear any charges arose from that call.